Physics

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  • Gunnison Valley Observatory: Faculty and students use this sophisticated facility for research and teaching.
     
  • Competition: Western students built a Mars rover-like robot for NASA’s Colorado Space Grant Consortium Robotics Challenge. 
     
  • Independent Projects: Students are encouraged to work on projects and conduct research with Physics faculty.

Profiles

Eric Loewen

~Alumni~

Eric Loewen headshot
Eric Loewen headshot

Eric Loewen

Eric Loewen's recycling reactor may 'save the world.'

Western alumnus Eric Loewen has twice counted among Esquire magazine’s “Best and Brightest”–in 2005 and 2009–for developing a new type of nuclear reactor that could, in Esquire’s words, “save the world.”

Yet he notes a key benefit of the attention was an invitation to speak at Western’s 2010 commencement, where his nephew Brett Sargent graduated with a degree in Computer Science.

“My 15 minutes of fame are over and I get to speak at the Western College University graduation in May,” he said at the time. “I’m happy and contented.”

Loewen, who graduated from Western in 1983 with dual degrees in Mathematics and Chemistry, works for GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. He is a key advocate and developer of Generation IV liquid-sodium fast nuclear reactors. The process reduces radioactive waste (in fact, it can recycle waste from light-water reactors), does not emit carbon dioxide (one of the major contributors to global warming) and automatically shuts itself down in an emergency.

While at Western, Loewen–an avid skier reared in Leadville–tried out for to the Nordic ski team as a walk on. Coach Ken MacLennan quickly spotted his talent and drive, and granted him an athletic scholarship. Loewen credits MacLennan for some key lessons in life.

“He had a way of conducting himself,” Loewen says. “His biggest thing was, ‘Don’t tell me how good you are; show me.’ This was how he ran the ski program. He wanted us to ski and do well in our studies.”

He cites other mentors at Western, such as the late Ted Violett, his Physics professor, whom he calls “a father figure”; Mathematics professor Dean McIntyre; and Richard Jaeger, who “showed up my senior year, and I competed a great year in Organic Chemistry.

“Had he been there all four years,” Loewen continues, “I might have gone directly into graduate school instead of the Navy.”

Following his junior year, Loewen had enrolled in the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program. While he recalls it was tough competing with other students from engineering, rather than liberal arts, schools, he graduated second in his class of 45 in the Naval Nuclear Power School and went on to become a lieutenant. His 10-year naval career included teaching in the same program, as well as commanding a reserve unit in Madison, Wisc. (where he earned both master’s and doctoral degrees), and serving as an officer aboard the USS Long Beach.

While his ship was escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, he had an epiphany.

“The situation I was in just wasn’t my passion,” he says. “I realized how truly dependent on oil we are. I wanted to work toward a better energy mix in our country and in our world.”

This helped spur Loewen to pursue development of the sodium fast reactor, a potentially safer technology that can process waste from other reactors. If widely deployed, advocates claim, it could free the world from dependence on fossil fuels, solve many thorny problems with nuclear waste and slow – or stop – global warming. Loewen has campaigned to restart federal-government support for the technology, both in his role as chief consulting engineer for advanced plants technology at GE-Hitachi in Wilmington, N.C., and as a recent president of the American Nuclear Society.

Loewen has a daughter and son, who like him have become endurance athletes, competing in cross country and triathlon races. His daughter, Zatha, was admitted to the Naval Academy, and at last report, his son was considering Western. Loewen and his family have also fostered 11 children, and he teaches surfing to autistic children.

Scholarships

Scholarships associated with academic programs usually have a specific scholarship application form that can easily be obtained by contacting that academic program's office or visiting that academic program's web page. If you have any questions, please contact the Financial Aid office at 970.943.3085 or 800.876.5309.

 Charlesworth, William Memorial Scholarship

Charlesworth, William Memorial Mathematics and Natural Science Scholarship Available to:

The applicant has applied to and has been accepted for admission to Western Colorado University and is pursuing a major in mathematics or related natural sciences. The applicant has demonstrated a need for financial assistance. The applicant has demonstrated an interest and is active in inter-collegiate athletics. Preference should be given to entering freshmen; however, all classes, freshmen through senior, are eligible. Preference should be given to applicants whose study time is limited by family obligations or the need to earn income. No preference should be given based on the sex of the applicant. Preference should be given to applicants from Delta County, Colo., or from the Western Slope of Colorado.

Scholarship Provided by:

Established with the Western Colorado University Foundation to perpetuate the memory of William Charlesworth, a 1954 graduate of Western Colorado University. The express purpose of the fund is to provide financial assistance to student-athletes pursuing majors in mathematics or related natural sciences.

Amount: Award depends on funds available.

Scholarship Recipient Selected by:

Chaired by the chairman of Mathematics and Computer Science and shall include a representative from the Athletic Department appointed by the Athletic Director. A representative from the Natural Sciences Department shall be on the selection committee.

Application: Contact the Mathematics and Computer Science Department or the Athletic Department for application and deadline information. MCIS Department: 970.943.2015 - Hurst Hall 128 Athletic Department: 970.943.2079 - Paul Wright Gym 201.

Find out more about Western's Math Program at www.western.edu/mathematics.

Find out more about Western's Chemistry Program at www.western.edu/chemistry.

Find out more about Western's Biology Program at www.western.edu/biology.

Find out more about Western's Geology Program at www.western.edu/geology.

 Mckenny, Casey James Memorial Scholarship

Mckenny, Casey James Memorial, Natural and Environmental Sciences Scholarship is Available to:

Full-time students at Western who are Juniors or Seniors (qualified Juniors shall be given preference over Seniors). Must be a declared major in Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences. Must maintain a GPA of 3.2 or greater. Recipients must follow Casey's example of academic promise, love for the outdoors and service to fellow students demonstrated by volunteering in the community and involvement in campus activities and service.

Scholarship Provided by:

Gifts by Bill and Monica McKenny, Casey's parents, as well as other family members and friends.

Amount: Award depends on funds available.

Scholarship Recipient Selected by:

Western Natural & Environmental Sciences faculty in consultation with the Dean of Students and Bill and Monica McKenny.

Application: Contact the Department of Natural & Environmental Sciences for application and deadline information. 970.943.2015 (Hurst Hall 128)

Learn more about Western's Physics Program.

Learn more about Western's Biology Program.

Learn more about Western's Chemistry Program.

Learn more about Western's Geology Program.

 Nauman, James D. Scholarship

Available to:

Full-time, Colorado residents who have a major in a field within the Natural & Environmental Science Department. Must have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 and demonstrated financial need.

Provided by:

Dr. James Nauman, who attended Western from 1945-49.

Amount:

Award depends on funds available.

Selected by:

Sciences Scholarship Selection Committee.

Application:

Contact the Natural & Environmental Sciences Department  for application and deadline information. 970.943.2015 - Hurst Hall 128

Learn more about Western's Physics Program.

Learn more about Western's Biology Program.

Learn more about Western's Chemistry Program.

 Walker, C. Ralph and Florence Memorial Scholarship

Available to:

Full-time students at Western Colorado University; must have declared a major in Biology, Chemistry or Physics.

Provided by:

Gifts from members of the Walker family to perpetuate the memory and to commemorate the service and devotion of C. Ralph and Florence Walker, who both served Western and the Gunnison community in an exemplary manner for many years. Professor Walker was Chairman of Western's then Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Amount:

Award depends on funds available.

Selected by:

Sciences Scholarship Selection Committee.

Application:

Contact the Natural & Environmental Sciences Department for application and deadline information. 970.943.2015 - Hurst Hall 128

Faculty & Staff

Faculty

Steve Griggs headshot
Lecturer in Physics
B.A., Western Colorado University, B.S., Fort Hays State University, M.S., Western Governor's University
Phone:
Office Location: Hurst Hall 202
John D. Mason, Ph.D. headshot
Associate Professor of Physics
B.A., Colby College, M.S., University of California - Santa Cruz, Ph.D., University of California - Santa Cruz
Phone: 970.943.2142
Office Location: Hurst Hall 116
M. Suzanne Taylor, Ph.D. headshot
Associate Professor of Physics
B.S., Linfield College, M.S., University of New Mexico, Ph.D., University of New Mexico
Phone: 970.943.2155
Office Location: Hurst Hall 118

Courses

FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 PHYS 110 - Introductory Astronomy (3 credits)

An overview of the historical development of astronomy and the basic physical principles that are relevant to it. The overall structure of the Universe is studied and its various components examined. Includes limited observational activities. Prerequisite: completion of the general education essential skills mathematics requirement. GT-SC2

 PHYS 120 - Meteorology (3 credits)

A summary of the structure of the Earth's atmosphere, worldwide weather disturbances, weather forecasting, and snow avalanches. This course may not be taken for credit toward the Physics Minor.

 PHYS 125 - Energy and the Environment (3 credits)

A practical study of energy generation and its environmental impact, including thephysics of energy fundamentals, fossil fuel use, alternative energy uses, and energy conservation. Primarily for non-science majors, this course will qualitatively detail basic physical principles behind the use of energy, including mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and thermodynamics. This course is designed to provide the student with a physicist's perspective on energy use and environmental issues. Prerequisite: completion of the general education essential skills mathematics requirement.

 PHYS 140 - Introductory Physics (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A semi-quantitative introduction to the fundamental concepts of physical science, particularly the laws of physics as they relate to the structure of matter. Laboratory experiences play an important role in the investigations. This course may not be taken for credit toward the Physics Minor. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: ACT math score of 19 or above; SAT math score of 500 or above; MATH 099; Accuplacer Elementary Algebra test score of 85 or above.

 PHYS 170 - Principles of Physics I (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A quantitative lecture and laboratory introduction to the basic principles of physics. Topics covered include the motions of particles, forces in nature, field concepts, energy, conservation laws, and many-particle systems. A mathematical proficiency at the level of college algebra is recommended. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: Accuplacer College-Level Mathematics test score of 95 or above, or MATH 141. GT-SC1

 PHYS 171 - Principles of Physics II (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A continuation of PHYS 170 dealing with electromagnetism, light, thermodynamics,and the atomic structure of matter. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: PHYS 170.

 PHYS 200 - General Physics I (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A quantitative lecture and laboratory introduction to the basic principles of physics, using the concepts of calculus as a tool. Topics covered include the motions of particles, forces in nature, field concepts, energy, conservation laws, many-particle systems, and thermodynamics. A student may not receive credit for both PHYS 170 and PHYS 200. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite or Corequisite: MATH 151. GT-SC1

 PHYS 201 - General Physics II (with laboratory) (3 credits)

A continuation of PHYS 200 dealing with electromagnetism, light, and the atomic structure of matter. A student cannot receive credit for both PHYS 171 and 201. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: PHYS 200.

Minor
Natural & Environmental Sciences

Physics is the foundation of all sciences and is crucial to understanding how the universe works from the smallest particles to the largest galaxies.

General Description

Physicists are concerned with understanding the way nature operates: the basic components of the universe and how they interact. The field of physics includes the study of motion, force and energy and uses these concepts to explain phenomena ranging from the simple motion of a hockey puck to the complexities of quantum mechanics. A minor in physics instills both a fundamental understanding of the world around us as well as problem-solving skills that will enhance a major in any discipline.

The Program

The Physics minor consists of 21 credits, many of which are earned in labs and upper-division courses where students work closely with their peers and professors. Students entering the program should have a strong foundation in math and be prepared to take calculus at the minimum. The program begins with introductory courses that span the breadth of the field and progress toward upper-division courses in astrophysics, mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. Those who wish for a deeper dive into the field can participate in independent and faculty-guided research.

Careers

The reasoning and problem solving skills acquired through the Physics minor prepare students to succeed in any career. For students pursuing graduate school in science, math or engineering, the Physics minor makes them not only a competitive applicant, but also gives them a strong foundation on which to base their studies. The rigorous nature of studying physics indicates to future employers that the student possesses both a strong work ethic and can quickly adapt to a challenging work environment. A Physics minor is ideal for students looking to pursue careers in a wide range of fields, including:

  • Computer Science
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Engineering
  • Medicine

Learn More

M. Suzanne Taylor, Ph.D.